Youth and Identity Politics in South Africa 1990-1994

By Cooper, Allan D. | African Studies Review, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Youth and Identity Politics in South Africa 1990-1994


Cooper, Allan D., African Studies Review


Sibusisiwe Nombuso Dlamini. Youth and Identity Politics in South Africa 1990-1994. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005. xi + 231 pp. Chronology of Historical Developments. Glossary. Notes. References. Index. $55.00. Cloth.

In Youth and Identity Politics in South Africa 1990-1994, Sibusisiwe Nombuso Dlamini reviews the process by which identity formations in South Africa evolved during the latter years of the apartheid era. She acknowledges from the outset that most of the political identities claimed by black South Africans resulted from "ethnicity from above" or "imposed ethnicity." Historically, these identities were sponsored by European colonists who had a vested interest in dividing the African population in South Africa into ten distinct black nations. A second process of identity formation resulted from the struggle against apartheid. Near the end of this struggle a third process of identity formation developed, a redefinition of the terms "Xhosa" and "Zulu" that were built upon competing aspirations for a postapartheid state. Dlamini's book explains how individuals negotiated these transformations in identity.

First, it is necessary to clarify some misrepresentations. By youth Dlamini means about three dozen individuals between the ages of twenty and thirty-five whom she interviewed for the book. All of these individuals were Zulu. By "South Africa" she means the KwaZulu/Natal region. And by "1990-1994" she really means a period of time beginning with the rise of the Zulu Kingdom in the 1820s to 2004, when the manuscript went to press in the midst of the HIV/AIDS pandemic that has claimed hundreds of lives each day in South Africa.

With these clarifications, Dlamini's work constitutes an insightful and valuable inquiry into the various sociocultural practices that have shaped Zulu identities, especially during the decade leading up to South Africa's emergence as a democracy in 1994. Her study centers on the area of Umlazi outside Durban, where she engaged in a "participation-observation" study of young people who did not support Inkatha, the Zulu nationalist organization led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi. …

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